Sunday, May 06, 2007

Johnathan E. Kirk dies from 'wounds received while conducting combat operations'

His father and stepfather were both fishermen, and so Johnathan E. Kirk was raised on the water in Beaufort County. A hunger to see the world, though, took him to Iraq's dusty Anbar Province.

Lance Cpl. Kirk, 25, of Belhaven died Monday at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., from a host of injuries received April 23 when an improvised bomb exploded near his truck.

He was assigned to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, at Camp Lejeune and had been in Iraq only about three weeks, his mother said Friday in a voice so hoarse -- from crying, she said -- that it was little more than a whisper.

"He has always been the action and the love here," said Glenda Hopkins of Belhaven. "He just couldn't stand to see any of us down, and would do whatever it took to lift our spirits."

In high school, Kirk was a small kid, but a dynamo who could lift more weight than anyone his size and got his brothers hooked on pumping iron, too, she said. He didn't play team sports at school but loved to play them informally and could do a flip as he ran, landing on his feet.

His mind worked as well as his muscles, and he could have done anything in life, said Noland Wilkins Jr., of Belhaven, his best friend from age 7.

Kirk got straight A's at Northside High School, where he graduated in 2000, without studying, said his friend. He worked for a couple of years on his father's 88-foot trawler and loved the water, Wilkins said.

"There was one time, though, he told me he just wanted to get out and get away," Wilkins said. "He wanted adventure."

Kirk liked all kinds of music, loved to work on cars and play basketball, and was "just a fun-loving guy," Wilkins said.

"He was a hero, that's what he was," Wilkins said. "He was my hero."

It was hard, he said, not thinking about the times as kids when they played soldier with toy guns and argued fiercely about why neither of them had fallen after taking 15 or 20 "bullets."

While Kirk was earning a degree in electrical work from Beaufort Community College, he met a Marine who deeply impressed him, said his mother. He joined the Corps on Jan. 17, 2006, was trained as a combat engineer and joined his unit last summer.

He needed to do something, his mother said, that would ensure he was always remembered, and thought serving his country might do that as well as let him travel.

He wasn't in Iraq long enough to find much adventure, though he and his buddies did catch a hedgehog and turn it into a pet.

"He was just like a 4-year-old when he was telling me about that," she said. "It just gave them all a lift."

He lived long enough for his family to drive up to Maryland. They got to talk to him twice, Hopkins said. The first time, they had just two minutes before the attendants wheeled his broken body off for more surgery. The second time, they weren't even supposed to go in. His mother saw an open door and seized the chance, urging her husband and one of Kirk's brothers, Shawn Hopkins, 20, to follow.

He had been drugged but was conscious and could nod his head.

"When he saw his brother, he wanted to come out of that bed, he was so tickled to see him," Hopkins said.

She stayed until 12:30 a.m., singing him religious songs. She left, she said, only after she felt the spirit of Jesus enter the room and told her son about it.

She went back to her room to sleep, but was woken at 2 a.m. by the telephone. She knew what that meant.

"I wouldn't answer," she said. "I said 'Lord, please let that phone ring be a dream.' But then they came and got me."

The pain hasn't eased, she said.

"I feel like my heart flew out of me," she said. "The other night I dreamed they were spraying me with some stuff so that I wouldn't remember any of this. It didn't work."

Survivors include: his father, John Kirk; stepmother, Donna Kirk; sisters Samantha and Ashley Kirk; stepsister Katie Davis; mother, Glenda Hopkins; stepfather, Robbie Hopkins; brothers Shawn Hopkins and Benjamin Hopkins, all of Beaufort County.

From the News & Observer